Thursday, September 21, 2006
Was C.S. Lewis an Evangelical?
The latest issue of "Think on These Things" by Gary E. Gilley is on C. S. Lewis. In his article, he attempts to answer the question: was C.S. Lewis an evangelical? He analyzes Lewis' beliefs regarding creation, total depravity, the scriptures, salvation, and miscellaneous issues. He also examines Lewis' views on substitutionary atonement, justification and sacramentalism, eternal security, and inclusivism. His conclusion?

A recent article in Christianity Today admits, “Though he shared basic Christian beliefs with evangelicals, he didn’t subscribe to biblical inerrancy or penal substitution. He believed in purgatory and baptismal regeneration.” His attraction to evangelicals may have been because of his evangelical-like conversion – “He had an evangelical experience, this personal encounter with the God of the universe.” His works actually fell out of fashion in the 1960s only to come roaring back more recently. In fact, sales of his books have increased 125% since 2001 and, since his Narnia series is being made into movies, his star will continue to rise for some time to come.

So how should we view Mr. Lewis? His ability to cut through the intellectual clouds and offer insightful analysis of human nature and our relationship with God perhaps has no equal. Most of us have gained much because of the writings of C. S. Lewis. On the other hand, he was no evangelical. His theology is deficient at best in the key areas of Scripture and salvation. He believed in neither sola fide nor sola scriptura, the two battle cries of the Reformation. Those who read him must keep these things in mind, filter his teaching through the grid of Scripture and hold him to the same standards that we are to hold all others. Because Lewis was a man with an incredible ability to package his insights in thought-provoking ways does not mean that what he writes always aligns with God’s Word. He was a man who had keen analytical abilities and incredible writing gifts. But he was a man who rejected or minimized many of the most important truths given to us by God.


posted at 3:15 PM  
Comments (6)

At 8:56 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

What's your assessment, John?

At 5:28 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

By the way, in Norman Geisler's Systematic Theology, vol. 1, he refers to Lewis as a "neo-Evangelical." I believe that would be an adequate evaluation.

At 7:44 AM, Blogger John said...

R. Mansfield,

Good to hear from you! My thoughts on Lewis hinge on defining evangelicalism. What is an evangelical? Until we clearly articulate what we mean when using this label, assessing boundaries is problematic.

Regardless, some of Lewis' beliefs are problematic to say the least. Another article that evaluates Lewis is Steven P. Mueller's "Beyond Mere Christianity: An Assessment of C. S. Lewis" (Christian Research Journal, Volume 27, Number 4 [2004]).

As far as Geisler's Systematic, I have not been able to read it. If possible, would you mind summarizing the support he gives for labeling Lewis a "neo-Evangelical"?

At 9:19 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

John, sorry I haven't responded to your request yet. I wanted to get to it over the weekend, but ran short of time. And in looking at the section on "Neo-Evangelicals" (Geisler devotes an entire chapter to this subject and profiles a handful of individuals that he puts into the category), the treatment on Lewis is fairly detailed. After realizing it was too much to type, I thought I might scan it for you, but haven't had time to do that either.

Let me take a moment and give you some information.

First in regard to defining evangelicalism--which I agree has to be done before a word like "neo-evangelical can be defined--Geisler tackles this in the very first page of his introduction, and I believe it's quite good.

"Evangelical theology is defined here as a discourse about God that maintains that there are certain essential Christian beliefs. These include, but are not necessarily limited to, the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible alone, the tri-unity of God, the virgin birth of Christ, the deity of Christ, the all-sufficiency of Christ's atoning sacrifice for sin, the physical and miraculous resurrection of Christ, the necessity of salvation by faith alone through God's grace alone based on the work of Christ alone, the physical bodily return of Christ to earth, the eternal conscious bliss of th esaved, and th eternal conscious punishment of the unsaved." (Geisler, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 15).

In defining a neo-evangelcial, Geisler writes, "The new evangelical view is so named because it is a deviation from the longstanding evangelical teaching on Scripture. It may also be called neo-Reformed, since it mainly comes from theologians in the Reformed tradition, but since other evangelicals have adopted similar views, it is appropriate to call it neo-evangelical. The most important proponent of this view is the Dutch theologian G. C. Berkouwer. His follower, American theologian Jack Rogers of Fuller Seminary, holds essentially the same position." (p. 388)

Then, in the chapter itself, Geisler profiles the beliefs of Berkouwer, Rogers, and Lewis before giving his own evaluation of neo-evangelicalism.

In regard to Lewis, Geisler writes, "For those most familiar with C. S. Lewis' strong and eloquent defense of many of the basic tenets of historic Christianity, his view of Scripture comes as a great surprise. Indeed, his perspective almost defies categorization, since it combines seemingly contradictory elements of the orthodox, liberal, neo-orthodox, and neo-evangelical views. Some have called it 'liberal evangelical.' Since it is clearly neither an evangelical nor a liberal model, it is listed here with neo-evangelical views, though it has much in common with liberalism, particularly on the Old Testament."

The subheadings under Geisler's treatment of Lewis include:
- The Voice of God through Human Distortion
- Divine Elevation of Human Genius
- Divine Superintendence
- The Errant Nature of the Bible
- Myths in the Old Testament
- Historical Errors in the Bible
- Antireligious Portions of Scripture
- Orthodox View of Inspiration Rejected
- Negative Criticism of Scripture
- Rejection of Old Testament Miracles
- Theistic Evolution Accepted

Now all of the above headings have to do with Lewis' view of the Scriptures because that's what vol. 1 of Geisler's systematic entails. He doesn't touch on Lewis' view of the atonement and other areas that might raise eyebrows in straight evangelical circles.

But you know, there is still much to like about Lewis. He's not a universalist. He was a very gifted apologist. In fact Geisler uses his arguments elsewhere through all four volumes of his work.

To me, I see a fellow who was essentially a literary critic, but also steeped in philosophy, who went from being an atheist to theist to a Christian, but a Christian in the Church of England tradition. Lewis was in his sixties when he died. Maybe he just needed another decade or two to move away from a purely literary view of the Bible :-)

I will always treasure Lewis' writings and am not ashamed to say so. Mere Christianity was very instrumental in my development spiritually while in college.

And you know it was that book that introduced many Christians to Lewis (if they had not read the Narnia stories when they were younger). Chuck Colson read Mere Christianity while in prison and wrote about it in Born Again. And suddenly Lewis had a brand new audience.

At 12:42 PM, Blogger John said...

R. Mansfield,

Thank you for your insightful comment. While I am not sure about Geisler's label (I'd like to read his whole treatment), I was also introduced to Lewis as a young Christian through Mere Christianity.

What can I say? I still appreciate Lewis, but wish he was more theologically astute. Beyond this, I guess he'll remain somewhat enigmatic to me.

At 3:01 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Part of Geisler's label may be from not knowing quite how to characterize Lewis. Geisler, in his typical style, has chapters on other approaches to the Bible (liberalism, neo-orthodox, fundamentalist, neo-evangelical, etc.) so that he can contrast those with his evangelical view. Of the categories he presents, I suppose Lewis would best fit with neo-evangelical but it's not a tight fit.


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